In Human Rights News: Workers' Rights, Immigration, Gun Control, and More

In Human Rights News: 3/30 - 4/5, 2013

This week in human rights news, we see advances and setbacks on a range of issues, including immigration reform, gun control, worker's rights, sexuality and gender rights, and more.

Early this week, the UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, released the US ICCPR List of Issues. Network staff accompanied a small delegation of people to Geneva in March to inform this list, and is pleased to see that the List includes a good amount of the issues raised with members of the Committee. We are disappointed that some of the issues we raised were not taken up in this current list, but we strongly encourage advocates to stay engaged with the ICCPR Taskforce and the Committee, by getting involved with the upcoming events the Taskforce has planned. See the Taskforce's work plan for a listing of these opportunities.  

The World Social Forum, one the largest gatherings of social movements organizations and activists from around the world that are struggling for a more inclusive social, political and economic system, was held in Tunis, Tunisia from March 26th to the 30th. Billed as "a process" and not a conference, this was the first time in its 13 years of convening that the gathering was held in an Arab nation. The theme for this year was "dignity," with a focus on women's movements in the region.  Highlights from the Forum are available here.  

Although the announcement was made last week, we think it is important to mention this week that the formerly-known Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has altered its name and mission to include a focus on transgender issues. According to a post on GLAAD's website: "The organization has formally dropped the words 'Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation' from its name and will be known going forward as simply GLAAD, the LGBT media advocacy organization." 

A new documentary, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, will open this Friday in selected locations. We also have a list of issues submission to the UN Human Rights Committee on the continued imprisonment and treatment of Civil Rights era political prisoners. 

Workers' and Economic Rights

Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, talks about her effort to organize domestic workers. Poo offers a key understanding of the human rights framing of the issues faced by these excluded workers and challenges us to think about how we could lead through love. This piece, along with the recent publication by the Center for Women's Global Leadership on the need to integrate gender in The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), add an often absent gendered perspective to the current discourse on workers' rights and economic justice.  

Fast food workers in New York City went on strike this week as they demand dignity and a living wage. This is part of an on-going movement by low-wage workers, which began in November of 2012.  

This thoughtful and important article on a recent misleading news report by National Public Radio (NPR) on the rise in Disability Insurance claims does an excellent job of putting the trend in context, connecting it to an aging population, an expanded work force, and the increase in retirement age for social security. It also points out how the government's disinvestment in education and the current climate of economic austerity stand to worsen the circumstances. An earlier piece from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) also explains the reasons for the increase and links protecting this crucial program to an overall need to protect and fund social security. Members of the disability community also responded to this inaccurate report from NPR.

Perhaps one the most insensitive and cruel proposals we have seen this week, a piece of legislation to tie welfare benefits to children's grades is making its way through the various committees in the Tennessee legislature.  Promoted as an attempt to increase "parental involvement," this bill seeks to further punish struggling families as it does not apply to any other families except those receiving benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs. 

Immigration Reform

The Gang of Eight, the bi-partisan team working on comprehensive immigration legislation, is reporting that it has reached agreement on principles to inform a bill, but need to work on the specific language. 

In other immigration news, the Associated Press (AP) announced this week that it has decided to drop the I-word ("illegal") in references to undocumented immigrants within the U.S.  As ColorLines explains, the use of the term "illegal immigrant" is "a racially charged slur that confuses the immigration debate and fuels violence.", which started the campaign almost three years ago to have the word dropped, explains why this choice by the AP is a crucial victory for their effort.  

Gun Control Legislation

Despite staunch opposition by the National Riffle Association (NRA), the UN General Assembly approved an historic Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) this week. The ATT seeks to regulate the import and export of conventional arms and to keep such weapons out of the hands of human rights abusers.  In anticipation of approval of the treaty and to prevent its ratification at home, the U.S. Senate passed two measures, the first of which prohibits the Senate from approving the ATT, and the second reaffirms the Constitution as superseding international treaties. Both measures have moved on to the House for confirmation. 

As part of its effort to expand gun ownership in the U.S., the NRA released its School Shield proposal this week. The so-called school safety proposal calls for armed guards and other personnel in schools. In reaction to this proposal and to advance transformative justice models to deal with student discipline, the Advancement Project and the Dignity in Schools Campaign rightly points to the flaws in this approach, by pointing out that such measures stand to further criminalize and punish students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disability by contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline (alternatively known as the schoolhouse to jailhouse track). Within the school-to-prison pipeline, these students are funneled through the juvenile and criminal justice systems by being targeted and punished for minor infractions and misbehavings; the process is part of an overall focus on incarceration over education, longstanding racial inequality, and an overall trend of disinvestments in public education. The Advancement Project has put forward its gun-free recommendations for addressing school safety, one that ensures students' dignity and focuses on students' human rights to education and life. Meanwhile, the Dignity in School Campaign has a series of events planned as part of its "You Can't Build Peace with a Piece Week of Action."

The Washington Post also featured a story on the creative ways students have been documenting their experiences within this school push out model to education and discipline. 

Environmental Justice

An oil pipeline carrying one of, if not the, crudest type of oil being mined today ruptured during the Easter weekend, spilling thousands of gallons of oil into suburban streets and nearby areas. The spill is giving fuel to efforts to get the Obama Administration to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline project. This recent NYTimes op-ed explains why the Administration should not approve the pipeline. 


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